Hello again. We are over halfway through the Legislature’s 90-day session with efforts proceeding on all fronts to draft and pass the fiscal year 2022 budget, as well as several other bills. Meanwhile, myself and other members of the Senate Majority Leadership are continuing to work with our counterparts in the House of Representatives and the administration on myriad issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. Of particular importance is ensuring the state does not lose its access to federal funding that has impacted thousands of Alaskans during the pandemic. This includes about $8 million in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), which helps feed many low-income Alaskans.
There is a lot of work still ahead of the Legislature before we are done, but lawmakers are committed to getting the job done and adjourning on time in mid-April. I look forward to updating you on our progress in future Capitol Reports.
FIRST BILL TO
CLEAR THE SENATE
SB-24 passed the Senate on Monday, March 1, giving it the distinction of being the first bill to pass our body. The bill, which I am cosponsoring, allows corporate shareholder meetings and nonprofit member meetings to be held electronically, a practice which was allowed under the pandemic emergency orders. The bill is currently referred to the House Labor and Commerce Committee for consideration.
PERSONAL LEGISLATION UPDATE
SCR 1 is currently in the House Rules Committee, its final stop before a floor vote. It gives the Legislature the ability to vote remotely and continue doing business should unsafe conditions preclude that from happening in the State Capitol during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SB 19 is awaiting a second Senate Finance Committee hearing. This bill extends the sunset date for the Special Education Service Agency (SESA) until June 2029. SESA is governed by the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education. It assists school districts in serving children with outreach services, special education instructional support and training.
I am awaiting a second hearing by the Senate Resources Committee on SB 33, which extends the state’s salmon and herring product development tax credit. The bill also adds similar tax credits for value-added processing in the pollock and cod industries.
In 2003, I sponsored the original legislation creating the Alaska Salmon Product Development Tax Credit. This program is credited as being a major factor in the increase in commercial value of Alaska salmon. A later bill extended the salmon tax credits and expanded the program to include tax credits for herring value-added processing.
I expect a third hearing by the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee on Senate Bill 45. The bill would align state law with federal law by bringing the minimum age to sell or possess tobacco and electronic smoking products (ESPs) from 19 to 21. The bill also adds ESPs to the existing wholesale tax structure for other products.
TRACKING THE ALASKA LEGISLATURE
A great way to follow the Legislature’s work is through Alaska public television’s Gavel Alaska, which broadcasts live and recorded coverage of floor sessions and committee hearings. The programming is also on the web at: http://www.360north.org/.
AlaskaLegislature.tv offers live coverage of meetings from the Capitol’s committee rooms. This service is provided by the Legislature.
You can also access information on any bills and resolutions introduced during the 32nd Alaska Legislature through the Bill Action and Status Inquiry System (BASIS) on the internet at http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Home/BillsandLaws.
Following recent federal approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, state health officials received word that Alaska’s initiation allotment is 8,900 doses, which will be put to great use in the effort to boost inoculations and put the pandemic behind us. So far, about 21% of all Alaskans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and nearly 15% are fully vaccinated. As mentioned in my previous columns, vaccination is not mandatory, and your concerns about vaccination are best directed toward your health care provider.
On a personal note, both my wife Rita and I have been fully vaccinated. Four weeks later, we are both doing well and are looking forward to hugging our grandkids for the first time in over a year when we get home after session. (You can find out more information on vaccine, testing and screening facilities online at: http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/default.aspx.)
APPLICATION PERIOD DEADLINE APPROACHING
If you have not already done so, I encourage you to apply for the 2021 PFD before the deadline, Wednesday, March 31. The quickest and easiest way to apply is online at www.pfd.alaska.gov.
Applicants who file online and request direct deposit are eligible to receive the 2021 payment in the first disbursement at the beginning of October.
If you are applying by mail, you should send your application by certified mail and request a return receipt.
Paper and online applicants who select payment by check are eligible to receive the 2021 payment in the second disbursement at the end of October.
HERE TO HELP
Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff if we can be of assistance to you with matters involving state agencies. You can reach us in Juneau at 1-800-821-4925 or (907)465-4925. My email address is: Sen.Gary.Stevens@akleg.gov.
HELP WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
The members of Alaska’s congressional delegation have in-state offices to help you with matters involving the federal government and its many agencies.
You can reach Congressman Don Young’s Anchorage office at (907)-271-5978 or toll-free at (866) 990-5979.
Senator Lisa Murkowski’s Anchorage office can be reached at (907)-271-3735 or toll-free at (877) 829-6030.
Contact Senator Dan Sullivan’s office in Anchorage can be reached at (907)-271-5915.
Thank you for reading the Capitol Report. Please keep in touch.